Over the last couple of weeks here on Grace Still Amazes we’ve been looking at God’s Charge against Israel’s Infidelity. Israel, like Gomer, was pursuing other lovers, believing that those lovers provided for her the necessities and even the luxuries of life. In reality, however, it was Yahweh who had provided these things for his bride, Israel and He was about to take them back.
Keep in mind that even in judgment, God would be gracious to Israel.
So we’re going to start in verse 6 this morning, and we’re going to be looking at the grievous consequences of Israel’s infidelity.
6 Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. 7 She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’ 8 And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal. 9 Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness. 10 Now I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and no one shall rescue her out of my hand. 11 And I will put an end to all her mirth, her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her appointed feasts. 12 And I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees, of which she said, ‘These are my wages, which my lovers have given me.’ I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall devour them. 13 And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the LORD. 14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. 15 And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
Verses 6, 9 and 14 all begin with the word “therefore,” indicating that what is predicted here is God’s judgment upon Israel’s pursuit of other gods, in particular the Baals. God’s first judgment against Israel was to place obstacles in her way, painful obstacles, that would hopefully cause her to turn back to God. This is the purpose of God’s discipline in our lives as well—not to drive us away, but to encourage us to turn back to Him.
Verses 6-8 describe the futility that characterizes infidelity.
The obstacles in verse 6 are the “hedge” and the “wall.” Job employs the term “hedge up” to refer to God’s providential care for His people (Job 1:10; 10:11-12), and this same providential care is in evidence in Hosea as God chooses to remove all temptations from his wife. Thus, any attempt to pursue other lovers will be met with frustration.
Albert Barnes says…
“Thorns” then may be the pains to the flesh, with which God visits sinful pleasures, so that the soul, if it would break through to them, is held back and torn; the “wall” may mean, that all such sinful joys shall be cut off altogether, as by bereavement, poverty, sickness, failure of plans, etc.
Keil and Delitzsch believe that this refers to the distress and tribulation of exile…
in which, although Israel was in the midst of idolatrous nations, and therefore had even more outward opportunity to practise idolatry, it learned the worthlessness of all trust in idols, and their utter inability to help, and was thus impelled to reflect and turn to the Lord, who smites and heals (Hosea 6:1).
Notice the “I wills” of God here—“I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her…” This is in response to what Israel said in verse 5—“I will go after my lovers…” It is the will of sinners to rebel against God and pursue other gods; it is the will of God to make it hard on His people to run after other gods. Israel would be shut in to “paths of righteousness” instead of veering off to run after her lovers.
“How like the unfulfilled desires of contemporary persons: individuals who appear to have everything but who have nothing that brings genuine satisfaction. To a restless, searching, unsatisfied generation, the words of Hosea are uniquely appropriate: Failure to live out a dynamic relationship with God and with the community of faith brings an accompanying lack of satisfaction” (Roy L. Honeycutt, Hosea & His Message, pp. 13-14).
Of course, we don’t like hedges and walls placed in our path when we are intent on sin. We would prefer a clear path towards sin.
God will guarantee us a path out of temptation, but never a path towards temptation. He will not make it easy for us to sin, but difficult.
In 1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul tells us
13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Thorns, since the initial curse, have signified the difficulties resulting from sin. But, there is often mercy even in God’s harshest judgments. Without the “thorns” of difficulty that scratch us, pierce us, and pain us, would we ever hate the sin which caused them? Would we ever want to be free from the sin of this world? Would we ever cry out for our wounds to be healed and our pains relieved?
All such hindrances to idolatry and wickedness, as visible here in the case of old Israel, have their counterpart in God’s cursing of the ground for Adam’s sake (Genesis 3:17, 19), and the continuation of such divine interference with nature as a means of human discipline throughout history, a divine action still visible today. The wretchedness of the entire world, groaning in the anguish of sin, debauchery, idolatry, violence and poverty at the time when “The Dayspring from on High” entered our earth-life in Bethlehem, is but a larger picture of what is here primarily focused upon the old Israel.
Our great and good Shepherd sends pain-filled difficulties into our lives to frustrate our sinful desires and directions. Perhaps your ambition made an idol of your job. But now you have lost your job. God has hedged up your way with thorns. Perhaps you were proud of your family. But now a son has rebelled against you. God has hedged up your way with thorns. Perhaps vanity was puffing you up. But now God has sent disease into your body. God has hedged up your way with thorns.
These are painful experiences which pierce deep into our hearts and minds. But they are sent in love to stop us from going farther away, to make us examine our wounds, to cry for help and healing, and to turn us back to God’s pathway.
Times of plenty, when “everything’s going my way” dull our senses to the illusory nature of these gods and their gifts. Like Israel, we mistake God’s gifts for the work of our hands, the ingenuity of our minds, the luck of our gambles. Especially in our scientific, secular world, we are unlikely to attribute to God what we can imagine might come from human innovation and technology.
Only when life falls apart and health fails and relationships dissolve and people turn their backs on us do we begin to see the shallowness and emptiness of what this world and its gods can give us.
And notice again God’s purpose in all this. It was not to destroy Israel, but to restore her. “One way of persuading Israel to return to Yahweh was to convince her that the things she longed for would never be realized through the Baalim” (David Garland, Hosea, p. 27)
God doesn’t want Israel to “find her paths” back to the Baalim. Her familiar pathway to her gods was now altered by hedges and walls, all to keep Israel to himself.
Stuart finds in this metaphor of the hedge and the wall an allusion to the confining of “a dumb animal who tends to wander off from its owner (cf. 4:16 where Israel is called a ‘stubborn heifer;’ 8:9)” and suggests that the threatened restraining will be realized in progressive foreign encroachment, which eventually will lead to Israel’s subjugation.
And John Trapp notes…
Man is fitly compared to a wild ass’s colt used to the wilderness, snuffing up the wind at her pleasure, rude and unruly, untamed and untractable, Jeremiah 2:24, Job 11:12.
He goes on to say…
To be kept by hedges and fences within a pasture, seems to such no small punishment: neither count they anything liberty but licentiousness; or a merry life, unless they may have the devil their playfellow: but the devil plays at no small games: he plays indiscriminately, he lies in wait for the precious life, as that harlot, Proverbs 6:26; nothing less will content him. In great wisdom, therefore, and no less mercy to men’s souls, doth God restrain, and bind them by afflictions that they may not run wild as they would nor feed upon the devil’s commons, which would fatten them indeed, but for the slaughter.
Israel’s God, and our God, is a jealous God. He told Israel at their beginning, “You shall not no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). No other gods—no rivals, no colleagues. He will not share His glory with another and He will not share us with another. Just as no husband shares his wife with another, God will not share us with another.
He will hedge up our ways and wall us off from other lovers so that we will be frustrated and feel the emptiness of our pursuits.
Verse 7 goes on to say…
7 She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them.
The words rendered “follow after and seek” (רדך, בקשׁ ) are intensive (Piel form) and express “eager, vehement pursuit,” and “diligent search.”
Thus, Albert Barnes comments:
She shall seek far and wide, minutely and carefully, everywhere and in all things, and shall fail in all….The sinful soul will too often struggle on, in pursuit of what God is withdrawing, and will not give over, until, through God‘s persevering mercy, the fruitless pursuit exhausts her, and she finds it hopeless. Oh the willfulness of man, and the unwearied patience of God!
According to John Calvin, this verse shows just how hard and obstinate their hearts were. Though it be more difficult now to pursue other gods, pursue them they will. In “mad zeal” (like an animal in heat) they will pursue their lovers, but to not avail.
Like the blinded Sodomites groping at the door, or Pharoah pursuing Israel into the wilderness after ten plagues, or Balaam who had an angel stand in his path, they do not learn from their sufferings, but instead push stubbornly on.
This led Matthew Henry to note:
Crosses and obstacles in an evil course are great blessings, and are so to be accounted. They are God’s hedges, to keep us from transgressing, to restrain us from wandering out of the green pastures, to withdraw man from his purpose (Job 33:17), to make the way of sin difficult, that we may not go on in it, and to keep us from it whether we will or not. We have reason to bless God both for restraining grace and for restraining providences.
The reality is, Israel and Gomer would still try to pursue their lovers, but would no longer be able to overtake them. There is emphasis on sustained, aggressive and intentional action on the part of Israel. No initiative is pictured from the lovers, no seduction from them. How pathetic! Her lovers are not seeking her out, not seducing her to do something she doesn’t want to do.
They would always be out of reach. Israel would seek them but not find them.
Yes, Israel might be able to burrow her way through the hedge and climb over the wall, but even then, those gods will not be found. They will not answer, like the Baalim on Mount Carmel. They cannot be found. They have “left the building.”
As James Burton Coffman reminds us, a non-entity cannot be found.
How different from pursuing God, for He promises flirtatious Israel in Jeremiah 29:
12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
On the other hand, the Baalim would never provide anything but constant disappointment. Contentment would only result from covenant faithfulness to Yahweh.
“I escaped not Thy scourges,” says Augustine, as to his pagan state, “for what mortal can? For Thou wert ever with me, mercifully rigorous, and with most bitter alloy all my unlawful pleasures, that I might seek pleasure without alloy. But where to find such, I could not discover, save in Thee, O Lord, who teachest by sorrow, and woundest us, to heal, and killest us, lest we die from Thee” (Conf. ii. 4).
Israel’s attempts to get what she needed from foreign nations and their gods would come to naught. But that disappointment is a blessing. At the end of verse 7 says…
7b Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’
At first glance this seems a glad and direct contrast to verse 5. There Israel had said, “I will go after my lovers” with a rebellious heart; but here “I will go and return to my first husband” with a repentant heart. Similar words, but worlds apart, for they represent a 180 degree change.
This is God’s desire, and why he treats them with severity.
It anticipates what will ultimately happen, the promise of verse 16
16 “And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’
Israel will ultimately be restored.
Given the context, however, I believe this is an incomplete or insincere repentance. It has the language of repentance, to “return to my first husband,” but neither Israel nor Gomer seemed to follow through. As David Hubbard says, “Much has to happen before that repentance is a reality.”
She only “says” that she would return. Unlike the Prodigal, who “came to his senses” and started the journey home, she seems to toy with this thought in her mind but never follow through on it.
Exposed to the meaninglessness and futility of life apart from God, she seems to decide to return to her “first husband,” to Yahweh, as opposed to the Canannite gods. But this doesn’t seem to be the reality, yet. They would have to suffer more in order to truly return to Yahweh.
Notice also the reason that she thinks about returning….” for it was better for me then than now.” She was only interested in going back because it was better for her, more to her advantage, more convenient to her. She was ever looking after her own advantage, not the glory of her covenant God. (Although this is similar to the prodigal’s own desire to find food in the Father’s house.)
If her repentance was real, as with the Prodigal, God would come running. But instead, he will afflict them with further judgments until they truly repent.
Again, this is the form of genuine repentance…”I will return.” Albert Barnes, quoting someone, says…
“Mostly, when we cannot obtain in this world what we wish, when we have been wearied with the impossibility of our search of earthly desires, then the thought of God returns to the soul; then, what was before distasteful, becomes pleasant to us; He whose commands had been bitter to the soul, suddenly in memory grows sweet to her, and the sinful soul determines to be a faithful wife.”
Notice finally the sad refrain of verse 8
8 And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.
This is the reason that Israel’s repentance, at this stage, is but a fleeting aspiration. They still believed it was the other gods who had been good to them, not Yahweh himself.
Israel, due to their zeal in pursuing idols, really believed that their grain, wine and oil, came from these agricultural gods, rather than Yahweh. They were deluded into thinking that their “silver and gold” came from either their devotion to their gods, or their own efforts.
And beyond that, they then turned around and used God’s gifts to worship Baal. As James Burton Coffman says…
[The] very wealth which God had bestowed upon Israel was used to build, ornament, promote and worship the vulgar old god of the Canaanites, Baal! Gold was used for images of that so-called `god’, as when Jeroboam I manufactured and installed the golden calves at Dan and at Bethel. Such wealth was also lavished upon the building of pagan shrines, the support of the pagan priesthood, etc. Thus, the very wealth which God had bestowed upon them became, in their hands, the instrument of their dishonoring him.
This word “know” is an important one in the theology of the book of Hosea. To “know the Lord” is the true goal. Here, however, they are ignorant, willfully ignorant of God and his goodness, believing instead that other lovers had been the source of blessing.
It sounds eerily like the words of Jesus, crying out to a nation that rejected Him again, the true God…
41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19:41-42)
Israel didn’t know, because they chose not to know.
I want to end today with a prayer from Scotty Smith’s book Heavenward:
Posted: 25 Feb 2017 08:55 PM PST, Scotty Smith
I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way. She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them. Then she will say, “I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.” Hosea 2:6-7
Lord Jesus, I’ve praised you for the kaleidoscopic foliage decorating the mountains of Switzerland, the wind-dancing sea oats covering the dunes of Florida’s Gulf, and the über-intense green painting the cliffs of Northern Ireland. But today, I praise you for the gift of thornbushes. They’re not pretty, but they are precious—as you make quite clear in these verses from Hosea.
Jesus, you love us so much that when we love you less, you come after us with bulldog-tenacity and uncomfortable providences. You are unrelenting in your commitment to rescue our hearts from broken cisterns and worthless idols—from anything to which we run and cling, when your love and grace don’t seem to be enough.
Continue to block our path when we begin chasing after lesser gods and other lovers. Hedge us in like a formidable fortress, when we let our longings or lusts, pain and fear have more power over our hearts than the gospel. When we set our heart’s GPS for any destination but you, Jesus, cause us to lose our bearings and way.
That you are jealous for us is the greatest compliment you could ever pay us, Jesus. Who are we that the Lord of glory would make us his Bride? Who are we that you would rejoice over us with the festive joy, the impassioned delight, and the desire-filled gaze of a Bridegroom?
We long for the Day when we’ll never again need to say, “I will go back to my husband as at first“—the Day you return to finish making all things new. Until that Day, Lord Jesus, keep us sane, centered, and satisfied, through the riches of the gospel. So very Amen we pray, in your holy and loving name.